Montana governor announces a coal-to-liquid fuel facility |

Montana governor announces a coal-to-liquid fuel facility

Susan Gallagher

HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Monday announced Montana will have one of the nation’s first coal-to-liquid fuel facilities, a $1.3 billion project that several companies have agreed to build in the state’s midsection.

DKRW Advanced Fuels, Arch Coal Inc. and Bull Mountain Cos. plan to develop the project at the Bull Mountain mine in central Montana, about 35 miles north of Billings, Schweitzer said. The governor said that although he announced the project, the state is not a partner nor did the developers request tax breaks or other incentives.

“This is a private deal between private companies,” Schweitzer said, adding the state worked to help draw the companies together.

DKRW and Arch Minerals are principal developers of the previously announced Medicine Bow coal-to-liquid facility in Wyoming. DKRW has developed wind and natural gas projects worldwide. Arch Minerals is a leading U.S. coal company.

The Montana project would use what is called integrated gas combined cycle technology to gasify coal, rather than ignite it. The project calls for converting a portion of the synthetic gas into a daily 22,000 barrels of diesel fuel, using the rest of the gas to generate about 300 megawatts of electricity.

“I’m excited about this one,” Schweitzer said at a news conference.

The Northern Plains Resource Council, an environmental group, was skeptical.

The technology has not been proven thoroughly and the project’s imprint on the environment stands to be significant, said Mark Fix, the council’s chairman and a rancher in the Miles City area. Expansion of Montana’s wind power generation and projects to produce biofuels from oilseed crops are better alternatives, Fix said.

“We’re trying to protect … the lifestyle that we all love in Montana,” he said in a telephone interview. Schweitzer said he expects “one of the cleanest plants on the planet.”

Calls seeking comment Monday from Arch and DKRW were not returned immediately.

An economic analysis prepared by a researcher at Montana State University-Billings projects the equivalent of 1,764 full-time jobs from operation of the plant and related work such as mining and rail transportation of coal. Annual wages and benefits for those jobs are projected at $194 million.

General Electric will provide the technology to convert the coal into synthetic gas, and technology from another company, Rentech, will be used to convert the synthetic gas into a liquid.

Schweitzer said the plant will be equipped to capture carbon dioxide for storage underground. The coal’s mercury, sulfur and particulate matter will be removed, he said. Fix said the handling of carbon dioxide is of particular concern because of the potential for releases to heighten global climate change.

It could be seven years before the first gas flows, Schweitzer said.

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